An Op-ed on White Privilege

As most of us, I’ve been thinking a LOT about the racial divide in this country as I sit here on Kaua`i, thousands of miles away from my birthplace of Baltimore. I joined every single decent person in feeling deep deep sadness, rage, pain and despair as I watched the death of George Floyd happen before my very eyes. I watched with pride as my friends protested in Baltimore, and in horror as I watched the PRESIDENT of the United States pose for a photo op with a bible in his hand after his administration ordered the police to tear gas peaceful protesters in order to clear his path.

There are really no words to say to all of it. What can I say to my friend Candace who posted a picture of her black grandchildren on facebook asking how she can protect them? What can I say to my black men friends who can’t jog without looking over their shoulder?  I will NEVER know what it’s like to be judged by the color of my skin. I will NEVER know what it’s like to worry every time my child puts on a hoodie. I will NEVER know what it’s like to see a police officer and wonder if he’ll come into my apartment in the middle of the night and pull a gun on me.

That’s the first step. White people need to see white privilege. Please, my fellow white people, stop saying “I don’t see color”. Because when you say that, what you are really saying is I don’t see systemic racism. You’re saying that there is no difference in the way black and white communities are treated, that you see no difference in the job opportunities for black and white youth, that you don’t see that predominantly black schools are way underfunded compared to predominantly white schools. I know that last part is true, I worked for the Baltimore City Public School system.  I also work for an economic think tank that looks at the intersections between race and economic opportunity. Black unemployment is consistently higher than white unemployment, period. And I could go on about all the ways in which institutional racism is alive and well in 2020. I know you mean well when you say that you don’t see color, I know that my dear friends and family who say that mean well. But we need to do more than that, we need to see color, and we need to accept that our experiences in the world are not the same as people of color, even if we have our own economic or other personal struggles. They’re just not. We do need to see color, and speak out about these injustices whenever we can.

I’ll stop there and re-state what I wrote above: This won’t stop until white people take some responsibility. Yes all lives matter but not now, please don’t say that now. Be silent and listen to how we can best be allies to create a world where black and brown people can feel safe. Let’s all step back and let them have the mic, and lead us and teach us how to best be allies. And then we can stand behind them and support them in their struggle.

Peace and Aloha

Quarantined on Kaua`i Day…?

I was going to write this as a Facebook post and share my recent pictures but decided that I had a lot of thoughts about being quarantined on Kaua`i day… ??, so I decided to write another blog post.

Like everyone who happens to be reading my silly little blog, I’ve gone through a lot of emotions since life as we knew it ceased to exist, seemingly overnight.  So many different feelings and thoughts, sometimes changing by the minute. Fear and anxiety and perseverance and boredom and whining and stress and laughter and joy and worry and anger and melancholy and sadness and happiness and gratitude…I’m sure I’m missing some.  

Yeah, I’ve felt anxious and fearful, haven’t we all? I can’t read the news for very long. I’m getting better but I have had some periods of being really scared. I’ve had a few panic attacks in my life and all I remember is the feeling of not being able to breathe. Last summer, when we were in the midst of the craziness re: uprooting our lives to move thousands of miles away, I had a few anxiety attacks and again, had to remind myself that I was ok, that I was breathing. So when I heard that a symptom of Covid 19 is breathlessness and difficulty breathing it just pushed those anxiety buttons, hard. While I’m pretty much over that at the moment, I am fearful of what this virus could do to me personally. I’m over 60 (shhh!), and while I lead a pretty healthy life and am fit for my age, I am also a former smoker with high blood pressure.

So it was from that personal fear as well as a greater fear and protectiveness for the kupuna (elders) in my senior fitness classes (that I used to teach before lock down) that my anger toward the steady stream of selfish tourists who continued to come here bubbled and boiled over, both here on my blog as well as on Facebook. In retrospect I think it helped me to process my own fear…by venting and railing online, I somehow was able to manage my own anxiety.  Although most of it was just pure anger that selfish people would travel to these islands in the midst of a pandemic, coming here, where there has been such a history of the people dying from introduced disease. I am so proud of my husband Doug, whose article on epidemics in Hawaii published by the Smithsonian magazine was shared over 11,000 times on Facebook and read by way more than that. That article makes me so sad, and so mad. Here it is in case you missed it: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/shutting-down-hawaii-historical-perspective-epidemics-islands-180974506/

Kaua`i’s mayor has taken some strong measures to ensure that visitors are obeying the mandatory quarantine, so I feel a LITTLE better now but not totally. Still, there are still some trickling in and not doing as they should. Hopefully the new order banning all vacation rentals will help, and we can just deal with the local community. But I think that all non-essential travel should cease. Kaua`i is F’ing CLOSED.

Which has me thinking a lot about what happens now. So many people here are out of work because the economy is so dependent on tourism. That makes me angry, that people here have to work 2-3 jobs just to survive, and now that the tourists are gone there is nothing, no jobs. So they have the choice of putting their ohana at risk by pushing for the tourists to come back sooner than they should, or putting food on the table. I see this as a real opportunity, which on the one hand is exciting, but on the other hand is super depressing. The exciting part would be for people to be able to start local businesses that don’t depend on tourist dollars. Why not legalize marijuana here, and let people use all of the vacant land to grow that, and to grow food. Bring back the traditional ahupua`a system of land management, which includes fishing. How exciting that would be. And foster other types of business that would allow Hawaii to export more goods than they import. I don’t know what they would be, but now would be the time to define them.

I realize that we can’t stop all tourism, that people will want to come here. But I would love to see limits and restrictions on the number of visitors. There were floods on the north shore in 2018 the roads were closed to everyone but locals for a year while they repaired roads and the residents put their lives back together. The place had been inundated with tourists prior to the floods, with thousands and thousands of people going to a tiny place at the end of the road every day. When they closed it down, the reefs came back. The earth healed. Now, there are limits on the number of people and cars allowed there per day. There is at least some attempt at balance and management. We could do that with places that are overrun with tourists here, and frankly all over the world. Look at Venice.

That’s my dream, but my fear is that greed will prevail. That the elites and the people in charge, be they politicians or corporations or the rich, will be so desperate that they will open the gates even wider, COME ON OVER WE MISSED YOU! People will have no choice but to go back to their low-paying tourist-dependent jobs. And the brief respite that the `aina, the land, is having now, will be over. That depresses me and I don’t know the answer, except to look to my Hawaiian friends in the sovereignty movement for hope. I am a proud ally, and I will do what I can to stand behind them and support them as they figure out how to take their sovereign nation back; to be independent once again.

So hmm, I’ve covered fear and anxiety and anger and depression. There’s still sadness and melancholy to go. I miss my daughter Jordan SO MUCH, I don’t know when I’ll see her again. And my mom. I had hoped to go back to Baltimore in the spring to see her, and to fly Jordan down, but now I don’t know when I’ll see them again, or any of my friends. I can’t even see my friends here, which feels even more isolating.

But then, we’re all feeling that one aren’t we? Thankfully I have Doug, who is still my number one source of joy and laughter, mainly because he goes to the farm every day so we haven’t been together 24/7 like many couples have. But that’s actually harder on me because I’m an extrovert, I get my energy from being around others, so if he were here all day I would drive him INSANE! Thank god for chatting and facetiming and the good old-fashioned phone, at least I’m staying connected with my friends and family as best we can. And to fight my boredom, Doug is teaching me Hawaiian, which I have been sharing with some groups online.

I’ve also been doing the sa ta na ma meditation, and a friend sent me a beginner Qi Gong video that I’m learning. And I’m still working on my fitness classes. Of course I’ve also binge watched Tiger King and Next in Fashion, my house is filthy and I have clocked way too many hours on the couch, lest you think me high and mighty.

Which leads me to where I want to end, gratitude. I am 100 percent grateful that I have my 2 jobs, helping Doug with fundraising for his museum, and my good old job at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. I had a pretty stressful week this past week, wading through guidance on the part of the economic stimulus package that included relief for non-profits and small businesses that don’t lay anyone off. I worked hard on the applications for both organizations, and I pray that I didn’t mess up. As I see what this crisis has done to the economy, I am even more proud of my colleagues at CEPR. This article https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/how-private-equity-firms-squeeze-hospital-patients-for-profits about my boss Eileen Appelbaum that was in the New Yorker mentions funding that we received to do the amazing work described in the article. I’m proud of the small role I play. I can only hope that they can continue to fight the power.

Finally, what I had intended to write about initially…my gratitude that I live on this beautiful jewel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I was feeling pretty whiney and missing the beach – we can go to the beach to exercise, but since it’s a drive for me I have made the decision to leave that for the surfers and others, so I’ve committed to staying put and walking in my neighborhood for exercise. It’s a rural one lane road and therefore it’s pretty easy to social distance (how is that a verb?), so except for a few cars and trucks I don’t see anyone. And except for the occasional lawn mower and leaf blower, ugh) and the ever-present screechy roosters, really blissfully quiet. So as I walk I can hear the rushing stream, and birdsong. And feel the breeze and the warm sun.

Today I turned on a road I hadn’t walked on before. It was so lush, and green, and it looked over a valley and, in the distance, I could see the ocean. On the way back I looked at the flowers, and the blue sky, and the incredible dense jungle and all of the variety of shades of green, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I will leave you (if you’re still reading lol) with these pictures from my corner of the globe. I hope they bring you serenity and peace, and much aloha.

Here’s Your Aloha

I’m writing this piece as a follow up to the recent blog post I wrote about the need for Hawai`i to shut down to visitors. I was so incredibly angry that our governor continued to allow unchecked tourism to continue to flow freely to a place where I live, Kaua`i, that has 7-12 ICU beds (count disputed but doesn’t matter not nearly enough). It angered me to see tourists coming in by the plane loads from places where the virus was spreading, especially after a cruise ship had visited here before it was discovered that people had tested positive for the disease. (Thankfully they have stopped the cruise ships and as of Thursday visitors and residents will have to quarantine for 14 days, but more on that later…)

Many responsible people cancelled their trips, but not enough did, and these were the irresponsible ones who were not obeying the posted guidelines about social distancing and ignoring signs that said the parks were closed and cavorting all over.

I became very vocal in my outrage, and it seems that I wasn’t alone. Many people here shared my outrage, especially local people, who, as my husband so eloquently wrote in this “viral” (pardon the intended/non-intended pun) article he wrote for Smithsonian Magazine on the history of epidemics in Hawai’i, have seen this tragically  play out before. They know what can happen to people who live on an island.  They felt real fear for the kupuna (elders) here, as did I. And they understood that we needed to close it all down. Stop the influx of people coming in from elsewhere.

This led to (overwhelmingly peaceful) protests by some local people here, asking tourists to go home. I know that the one in Poipu was respectful…I was there.

Yeah those are my white legs

There have been cases of local people yelling at tourists, or in some cases residents who they thought to be tourists, and I heard there was one instance of someone throwing stones or something to that effect. But there have been very, very few instances of “violence” or “threatening behavior” and the majority of “confrontations” have been online.

I happen to belong to several Kaua`i related Facebook groups, including one that has 30,000 people that is more geared for tourists. Prior to our new Covid-19 world, that site was mainly people posting questions about the weather, which side of the island to stay on and where to eat, along with tons of pictures of the beauty that is this island. But as the virus spread, people who live here, like me, started to warn people that this might not be the time to come, which led to sometimes heated exchanges, which led to the comments being turned off by the moderators. There’s another site that is more geared to locals and residents with a good number of visitors, and while commenting is allowed, the pattern has been pretty much the same:  As things heated up, someone who got “yelled at” or heard about people being “yelled at”, would get on these forums and complain about how the “locals” were NOT showing aloha. No matter that the tourist was thinking about or had made the decision to come during a pandemic, the “locals” were expected to show aloha no matter what. And if anyone dared to say, um this is NOT A GOOD TIME, the poster would bemoan how hurt they were. Then others would pile on, POOR YOU you don’t deserve that (heart prayer hand emojis), Or worse, anyone who dared say STAY HOME was told that if they continued to be so mean, people would stop coming so they would lose their jobs.

Even white residents, of which I am one, started to complain about the treatment, saying that they too had been yelled at because of their skin color, although I of course am not in that group. I have never ever been mistreated here, but if I had, I would not have gone on Facebook to accuse Hawaiians of being racists. We had several white people at the protest I attended say hey I live here, and give us the shaka. And honestly anyone who beeped in support was shaka-ed back, no matter what race or background.

But that’s white fragility in a nutshell. I posted on my wall about how I was angered that they were still letting tourists in and that the tourists were not practicing social distancing. Someone I had friended from one of those groups, a white resident, came onto my wall to post pictures of “locals” at a ballpark near her not social distancing, and complained that she had been yelled at and given the “stink eye” from locals for being white. I told her that I agree that everyone should be social distancing, but reminded her that aloha is a two way street, you gotta give it to get it, and I also said that people are angry and that is expressed in different ways. She wrote back something to the effect that it doesn’t give locals an excuse to treat tourists like lepers. OMG!  I told her that she needed to read up on Hawaiian history because that was one of the most insensitive things she could have said (or read Doug’s paper on it) My Hawaiian friend took over from there, and the offended one ended up defriending me and I read elsewhere that she is so distraught and upset that someone was so mean to her that she is thinking of moving off the island.

THIS IS WHITE FRAGILITY! Girl, you got your feelings hurt! Someone gave you the STINK EYE. You got yelled at and someone was mean to you on FACEBOOK! Meanwhile…Hawaiian people have had their legal government overthrown, their land taken, they have been forced to work 3 shitty jobs to be able to live in their homeland and they have to put up with entitled tourists all over the island, day in and day out, and STILL they smile and give aloha. And now many just cannot do it anymore, they say please go home, we need to save resources for our kupuna.

But if they dare go online to express any of those feelings or express their anger they are lectured about how we all have to work together, this is not the time for anger.  I’ve been smacked down too: if I write about it someone inevitably brings up the one or two cases where peoples’ anger has boiled over, like the case on Oahu where some tourist family who arrived there the DAY before the quarantine because you know cheap fares, were harassed at a park in Waikiki and it was written up in the paper. So of course whenever anyone expressed anger that was the immediate comeback, not an acknowledgement of frustration over the situation, just a big lecture on how nothing is an excuse for violence. So I felt compelled to preface all of my posts with “I don’t condone violence but…”

Of course I don’t condone violence!!! I hate confrontation and want world peace! But I’m done prefacing because really, can’t the “victim” EVER take ANY responsibility? Who in the hell gets on a plane with their fucking family in the middle of a global pandemic and flies to an isolated island with limited resources?! No Aloha left for that!!!

And some were more subtle.  Many people who did cancel their plans went online to demand a pat on the back for doing the right thing, and then if someone said something like good you should have canceled, they were admonished for their “negative tone”. Or there were many who said things like “well I would have cancelled but I can’t get my deposit back and I can’t afford to lose that money”. Which makes no sense, so you’re going to come anyway, spend more money and risk everyone’s health? And to which I replied, “people who are losing their livelihoods here are telling you to stay away, think about others.” But you know, I am just so MEAN to the poor tourists. 

White privilege, class tone deafness and white fragility, we need to have this conversation because it’s the only way we’re going to get past it.  I will leave with the last paragraph from Doug’s article on epidemics because it’s so freaking good. I send much Aloha to everyone, because if you give it freely and humbly. you will get it back.

“As visitors rail in online communities about the lack of aloha they are experiencing (some going so far as to say they felt they were being treated like lepers), the real question is whether or not each person respects the unique culture and history of Hawai‘i and the fragility of this place and its people. The Hawaiian Kingdom was never about race or skin color. Now that all Americans are in that position of being a “virgin population,” it’s time for the non-Hawaiian residents and visitors to understand what the Native people here went through: how they died in droves, how they and their lifestyles were blamed for the illnesses brought in from outside, how this led to their kingdom being taken from them and their lands being overrun by foreigners whose individualism is antithetical to life on small islands. The Hawaiian experience is the very definition of intergenerational trauma. They should not be asked to give aloha. They should receive it.”

Hawai`i is on Vacation

Aloha kakou. I’m sitting here on Kaua`I, looking out my window at the blue sky and lush surroundings and trying to wrap my head around what is happening in the world, as we all are in this brave new world called Covid 19. But this isn’t going to be a post that I could have written had I been in self-imposed isolation just anywhere, it’s about being here, on Kaua`I, in the occupied state of Hawai`i. Those of you who have happened upon my Facebook rants of late know that I have been pretty vocal in my outrage that as of today, March 20, 2020, they are still allowing tourists to come to the islands, at least until the governor signs off on the recommendations of his lieutenant governor and Covid 19 task force to impose a 14 day quarantine on all people coming here. He needs to do that yesterday.

Tensions are running high because as you know tourism is the number one industry here and most people work 3 shitty jobs to make ends meet and those jobs are heavily concentrated in the tourist industry. So there are some people who, despite everything, are arguing against shutting the shit down. But I feel that those voices are getting fewer and farther between. I get it, what does someone do when their livelihood is taken away, especially someone who lives on an island where everything is more expensive? This pandemic has shown a bright light on the gaping holes in our social safety net, too many people stuck in low wage jobs with no security, meanwhile our esteemed senators are profiting by selling stock based on insider information. It’s what we get when we elect an inept bankrupt failing TV reality star as president. I can’t even write what I think about him. Instead, I will choose to believe that sanity will prevail, that the policies prescribed by my awesome colleagues at the Center for Economic and Policy Research will be enacted. At least I will do whatever I can to fight for that.

Ahh but I digress, back to Hawai`i. I see lots of posts about people all over the islands saying enough is enough. People on Molokai and Maui have taken to the streets:

And that has brought backlash. I’ve also seen posts complaining about people who feel that is not showing “aloha”. And as I wrote on someone’s thread, that’s what Hawaiians have ALWAYS been told: Show aloha. Always show aloha. And if they dare complain well, they are the ones ridiculed and scolded for not having aloha. And that makes me crazy mad. Everyone saying that needs to read up on some Hawaiian history. My husband Doug’s dissertation had several chapters about the epidemics brought here by outsiders. Epidemics that nearly eradicated Hawaiians. People have inter-generational trauma about that and people who come here have the nerve to say to someone from here that they need to show aloha.

Everyone, Hawai’i is closed. Let it heal, both literally and figuratively. Let the people here take care of the kupuna. We have a total of 9 ICU beds, we need all of the resources for residents. And maybe, as happened in Venice, let the aina heal. Let’s use this opportunity to really re-imagine what life could be like, where people of this place can grow food and take care of one another without someone whining about not being able to take their cheap ass coronavacation.  No aloha left for that. But there is much aloha for those who really love this place to do the right thing and stay home.

And with that, much aloha from Kaua`i.

Edited to include this link to an article by my husband Doug that just came out in Smithsonian Magazine:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/shutting-down-hawaii-historical-perspective-epidemics-islands-180974506/?fbclid=IwAR2Lc_vruMVhRiv8KkZMyebEAPZ_qEAAmldSZg-qgVO-Gxi_u8XyoyCyo6s

OK Boomer, You are Beautiful

OK BOOMERS listen up, this post is for you! OK not all of you really, it’s more for the female side of the equation. We don’t discriminate because I am sure that many men of a certain age who read this post will relate as well. But please forgive me because this post is really meant for my fellow women warriors of a certain age and it’s about something that I have been thinking about a lot, increasingly so as I look in the mirror these days and catch a glimpse of my wrinkled jowls or crepe eye or arm skin and I’m like whoa who is that old woman? This conversation is timely, what with all the hoopla over JLo and Shakira’s performance in the Super Bowl.

I struggle with all of it. Wanting to embrace my aging body and face fearlessly, with pride. I work out, because it’s something I’ve always done. As I wrote in a long ago post, that habit may have started back in my anorexic early 20’s (and if any of you know anything about anorexia it’s about control more than anything else), but now it’s about being healthy and teaching my seniors the importance of movement. I eat what I want and am thin most likely as a result of genetics and my metabolism. Exercise helps, but sometimes it is the genes.

And still, knowing that, sometimes when I’m teaching, I look in the mirror and say DAMN I’m PROUD of myself, but sometimes I say, “OMG I’m over 60 when did that happen?” Always that tension between feeling really good and feeling like I’ve lost something precious.

I’ve always been obsessed with being stylish

And I started wearing make up at 14. Here I am in High School, it’s in black and white but you can see from my shiny hair and eyes that I was in full make up in Spanish class.

I never went ANYWHERE without make-up. This is from my 5th High School reunion. I probably thought I looked old then.

Throughout my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s I tried every face cream regimen out there (ask my mom about my products!) And speaking of my mom, look at her!

She’s never used anything but Pond’s Cold Cream. Despite what she looks like though I could never use a drug store beauty product, heavens. I need the latest in anti-aging. And I usually post pictures of myself in sunglasses so you don’t see the eye wrinkles.

Because and I am really embarrassed to say this but it’s my face that I really care about. I’ve thought so much about the struggle to look younger. I know many women who have had some kind of procedure, whether its Botox or fillers or laser or surgery. And I guess if I’m honest, if I had a lot of money to spare, I probably would have gone that route. So I don’t blame them. I probably would be them.

But I’m not, and I just think that those of us who don’t go that route need to be the ones to be out there, talking to one another, telling each other that it’s ok, that we are strong. WE are the ones who can help each other to age gracefully. To stop each other from feeling bad. To embrace our wrinkles and call them signs of our wisdom. To stop comparing ourselves to celebrities and others, to stop finding ourselves lacking.

When I moved to Hawaii I told myself that I needed to let it GO. I now only wear some eye make up occasionally. That was a huge step for me (that sounds so SILLY as I type, what with all the crazy shit going on in the world). But it’s true and this post is about being true to ourselves. I need to step gracefully into my role as an Aunty. A Kupuna who has something to teach.

So I ask all of you, my tribe, to help me and help each other to accept our aging beautiful bodies just as they are. Post your selfies. Here I am in no make-up and no filter.

We are strong, we are beautiful, we rock. Even with our old lady hands (rock on MA).

Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou from Kauai !

The above means happy new year if you haven’t already guessed. I decided to use this opportunity to update my silly little blog, in case anyone is interested in reading about how we are adjusting to life on this beautiful island.

In a word (or three), pretty damn well! I last wrote some random ramblings and this post will probably be more of the same.  It’s been 4 months since we landed here, which feels weird because in some ways it feels like forever, and in other ways it feels like time has stood still, especially since it was sunny, green and humid when I arrived and it’s still sunny, green and humid now. Although we did have a few bouts of “cold” weather which forced me to put on socks for the first time. I know you’re feeling my pain east coast peeps. It’s a hard knock life.

So yeah, it’s “winter”, which on Kauai means LOTS of rain. And rain, we discovered, only helps to increase the mold that grows on pretty much everything in my house. It’s not a pretty sight and it’s a constant battle

but on the other hand this is the view from said house, a regular occurrence because of said rain:

OK I’ll get the other “bad” stuff out of the way. It’s pretty expensive here as I have mentioned so we don’t go out much. But thankfully we have Costco, and Grove Farm museum, where Doug works, is actually a working farm and we get avocados and eggs and soursop and all kinds of strange citrus that I’ve never heard of.

So that’s helping with the grocery sticker shock. I just wish we could find a good supply of fresh fish. There are fish shops that sell poke, and Costco actually has some decent fish, but believe it or not it’s really hard to find fresh local fish (except for the times when we can catch our neighbor who sells Halalu, or baby Akule. YUM!)

Doug is seriously looking into getting some new fishing gear and goin fishin himself. Can’t wait!

The roosters are still getting on my damn nerves and now Shel shakes and hides when she hears them in the morning because a week or so ago Doug went out with a pellet gun to shoot at them and Shel got scared. She still chases them at the farm though, and I hope she catches all the bastards! Sorry for the Language but they are the most annoying creatures on the planet. Even more so than the cane spiders, which don’t bother me but still creep Doug out!

Speaking of Shel, she’s doing great, she’s fully recovered from her accident (which she wrote about in a guest post on my blog, here), and she LOVES Kauai life, dawgs. And why not? She has run of the farm, where she runs around all day,

chasing chickens and barn cats and teasing the pigs and greeting the visitors and getting lots of love.

She also gets to go to the beach, and she loves rolling around in the sand and splashing in the waves.

As do I…well not the rolling in the sand part. But we have found our favorite beaches on “our” side of the island, and are so so lucky to be able to take a dip whenever we want. Or at least when we’re not working.

Speaking of working, in October I received an email from my ex-boss at the Center for Economic and Policy Research saying that my replacement had quit suddenly and asking if I would be interested in doing some development consulting as they had tons of grants due. I did and it’s working out beautifully so far, I’m up at it bright and early east coast time and finish by noon or so which leaves me time to help Doug at Grove Farm…or go to the beach! And my BOOM Move senior fitness class at the Kauai Athletic club is going well, I have about 16 regulars and they can really groove. I may get another class at the community center in Waimea. It’s great to have all of these jobs, because see above about the cost of living. But I’m especially glad to be back at CEPR. I tried to leave twice and failed, there’s a reason…

OK, what else is hard. Missing my people is HARD. I miss my mom and my daughter Jordan and my stepson Holden and Candace and Gina and Tamara and Mary and Joan and Claudia and Liz and Chris and Jo and Roniece and Maureen and my PIC and all of my friends, both in Baltimore and in Paris and beyond. I’ve had some bouts of feeling lonely here and there, but I am getting out and meeting people and I am fortunate to have met someone who I know will be a good friend, in a roundabout way through my friend Maria from Baltimore, which is a sweet story. As one of my Paris amis said, you find your tribe wherever you land. I believe that I will do just that, I just have to remind myself to be patient (which I am NOT).

The local friends that we made here on previous trips live on the north shore and as I am finding out that’s like Siberia in Kauai speak. I have another dear friend who is from here and she even lived within hanging out distance, but she moved to the Big Island soon after we arrived (happy for her sad for me). But I keep up with her great work and she makes me think a lot about some of the other things I struggle with, namely how to reconcile my life with the people of this place, especially knowing what the whole overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian kingdom has done to the people. I am a sovereignty ally, trying to figure out what that even means.

And I’m figuring out how to co-exist with the gazillion tourists who come here, especially those who don’t respect the culture or the wildlife. I stubbed my toe at Poipu running up to someone to kindly explain that getting all down in a resting sea turtle’s face to take a selfie was not cool.  

Also, people born here are getting priced out, forced to work 2-3 jobs just to survive, so it bothers me when the rich come and buy up land and build gated communities to keep people out. That is something I think about a lot, and I try as hard as I can to be respectful to the communities whose ancestors’ bones are buried here.

And yet, I love it here so much, and feel SO blessed that we are able to live here and to share in the beauty. I know that Doug will do his best to show the history of this place, to help everyone learn and grow and hopefully have more respect for both the people and the land. To do that it’s important to talk about the past. We want to tell the stories of the plantation workers and to help lift up the knowledge about how the Hawaiians lived before the outside world came. I want to learn hula and Hawaiian so that I can understand better.

I have enjoyed our visitors, first my time with the aforementioned Maria, despite her visit coinciding with a stressful week for me that involved my flying to Oahu to see my new eye doctor not to mention grant deadlines. Still we managed to have fun and we had a nice drive up to Ke`e beach on the north shore in my special place, Ha`ena.

And then Doug’s mom and Holden came for Thanksgiving which was awesome. The weather was great and I learned to paddleboard thanks to Maria finding the House Stark SUP. We had such fun on the river, I can’t wait to do it again.

We went to Waimea Canyon and we could see for miles…just stunning.

We spent Thanksgiving at one of the historic properties that Doug manages, Mahamouku, a 1919 beach house that sits on the gorgeous Hanalei Bay. It was magical being there for a few days. We had a great time and can’t wait for Holden to come back. And for Jordan to visit!

Christmas was quiet, Doug told his employees that they could have off from Christmas through New Year’s so we manned the office at the museum and readied the property for tours. It was good getting to know the ins and outs of taking care of the place. I have such respect for all of the lovely people who work at Grove Farm museum, and I look forward to trying to get some grants so that we can do all kinds of good things in the coming year.

So, that’s how things look from down here, on this teeny tiny dot WAY out in the middle of the Pacific ocean that we are blessed to call home. I’ll leave with one more good news story, something that I think speaks to the aloha of Kauai. A few weeks ago I lost my wedding ring while snorkeling at a beach near Poipu called Baby beach. I snorkel there because as the name suggests it’s good for novice snorkelers like me. Doug had to work that day and I decided that I wanted to venture out on my own. I told myself to take off my wedding ring (that has my great grandmother’s diamond as well as diamonds from Doug’s grandmother, ie priceless), but I forgot to do so which was STUPID as I had lost it when Holden was visiting and he found it. Anyway it slipped off somehow while I was adjusting my snorkel. A kind man on the beach and I snorkeled for over an hour looking to no avail, so I left thinking that perhaps I had taken it off at home after all…but no, it was gone.

Doug looked after work and I went back to ask people to post to several Facebook groups that I belong to called Kauai Life and Kauai Community if anyone found it. I posted to the groups as well, and several people suggested that I contact someone named Dutch Medford. To make a long story as short as I can, I found Dutch’s phone number and he came out of retirement to help me find my ring. He has a metal detector and over the years he has found millions of dollars’ worth of lost rings for people, never charging a cent, only accepting “tips”. It took the intrepid Dutch about 10-15 minutes to find my ring in the shallow water.  He is my savior!

So Doug and I decided to give a metal detector for Christmas, so that we can give back in the same way. Plus Dutch said it’s fun, and you find all kinds of things, not to mention loose change.

Well, that’s probably more than enough random ramblings for one sitting. I’ll leave you with this: In my previous post, I had hoped that I would be able to slow down some, to enjoy life. I still don’t miss the rat race. I am more relaxed. The rhythm of this place suits me. The land, the aina, calms me, despite old stresses popping up now and then. May we all enter this new decade with a sense of peace and happiness. We need to stay strong in love.

Here are some sunrise/sunset pictures from the soulful place that is Kauai. Hauʻoli makahiki hou hons! Ya’ll come visit, heah?

Island Dog Tails…

Aloha Kakou! Shelby here, I am taking over my mom’s blog in honor of my other mom, Mary O.  She wanted to hear from me directly about how I am liking life on Kauai. So this post is in honor of Mary, Jim and Alex Opasik, my second family, who I love and miss very much.

OK, getting here was NOT FUN! I had to go to the vet many times and get shots and all kind of other nasty things that I HATE. And I had to get into a crate!!  I’ve always hated those damn things ever since they made me get in one when I came to Baltimore from Tennessee. I was SO NOT happy to be in a crate again, and I didn’t understand why Mommy made me do it, then she LEFT ME and I was in this most awful place and I hated it SO MUCH, and I was scared and shaking!!! But then after what seemed like TWO YEARS I got out and guess who was there? Mommy AND Daddy, and some woman who put this thing around my neck and then Mommy and Daddy put me in a car and I had no idea what in the hell was going on!!!

But…OMG SO MANY NEW SMELLS!! I was really in smell heaven; I didn’t care about not having any squirrels to chase. It was AMAZING. So green and smelly and beautiful. And Daddy took me to a FARM. Get out, I grew up on a freaking farm!! YAY! I was SO HAPPY to be back with the pigs! I get to go there every day. I’m in farm heaven.

But I did really miss chasing squirrels and rabbits and  pretty soon I was feeling bummed out that there are no squirrels and rabbits on Kauai. I didn’t know what to do with myself…until…I realized that there are literally a GAZILLION chickens on Kauai and guess what? They are even MORE fun to chase than squirrels because sometimes I even catch one! And nobody cares because everyone is like OMG we are so over the roosters crowing at 3AM. I am a HERO LOL!

And what is even more awesome, I get to go to the beach, and I LOVE IT! I run into the water and then my most favorite thing is to run back to the beach and roll around in the sand so that I am COVERED in sand. It’s so GREAT! I do hate it when Mommy and Daddy rinse all that sand off in the shower though. That SUCKS! Why can’t I have all the fun?

I also have made some new friends here. Don’t worry Alex, I am still your girl. Bomba and I are JUST FRIENDS I SWEAR SWEETIE LUV U! xoxo

I did have a little accident – some damn ass car HIT ME! It hurt like hell but I am on meds and I think I’m gonna be ok. I got lots of love and treats and my mom told me that everyone was thinking good thoughts about me and I loved that. I’m a SUVIVOR people.

So, I look forward to continuing my MOST amazing life as the Most Happiest Dog on Kauai. PLEASE come visit Mommy, she misses her friends and I just can’t be there for her ALL THE TIME, I have too many chickens to chase.

Aloha from Kauai, dawgs!!

Shelby, AKA Shel Belle, AKA Shoobs OMG they need to make up their freakin minds!

Random Ramblings From Kauai

So, I’ve been here for a month. I still can’t believe that I live here. LIVE here. I hope that the wonderment never ever goes away. I will do what I can to constantly be amazed by this stunningly beautiful place, and will try to remain grateful and thankful. I live 10-15 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. Blessssed:

I’m not really a rambling person, rambling in the sense of writing a post that has no purpose or beginning or end. Mahalo Kauai for forcing me to shake it up (reference to the Cars whose lead singer died after I moved here….)

OK here is my attempt at the free fall (aww in homage to another of my rock idols TP, RIP):

The pace of life is definitely slower here than in Baltimore/DC. And while I vehemently deny that my hometown is a rat infested hell hole, the pace here on Kauai is way slower than the rat race I used to endure (even with the “rush hour” traffic jams). And WAY slower than DC. I can barely remember my two hour commute. AND it feels good to be far away from the rat in the WH.

Although we do have rats here. And cane spiders and centipedes. And lots of cute geckos and skinks. And big moths. But no snakes! And no mongeese. Which is why there are a gazillion wild chickens on Kauai, which leads to my next ramble:

Roosters are a pain in the ass. They literally crow around the clock. And did you know that each one has a distinctive sound? Imagine variations of “screech screech screech screech screeeech”. The sonorous, beautiful, only at sunrise “Cock a doodle doo” is a made up fantasy my people, the real thing ain’t pretty, especially when it wakes you at 3AM.

Prices are high and salaries are low. I can’t fathom how working people survive here. I guess I’ll find out! Trying to be more frugal, which in the end is better for me, and hopefully for the planet. Yes, while the whole political scene in DC seems far far away, climate change feels very real here. I think about it a lot more.

I need to learn how to prounce Hawaiian words properly. Even the street names trip me up:
Ala Kalanikaumaka St
Hanamaulu Rd
Uahiapele St
Kaholalele Rd
Waihohonou Rd

At least I can manage Aloha and Mahalo

Except for my running shoes, I haven’t had anything on my feel except flip flops (slippahs). Mostly I’m barefoot. I have a slippah tan and rough but happy feet.

All of my clothes are just wrong. I will probably wear 1/10th of what I brought, if that. And I’ve had just a bit of eye make up on, one time. Those of you who know me know that that in and of itself is a miracle! It’s too hot for one thing, and I am really trying to accept my aging wrinkled face as it is. From now on I will refer to my sweat as a dewy glow.

Because it’s been hot and I don’t have air conditioning! But this is the last time I will publically complain about that because, um no winter.

I love avacados, which is a good thing because we have an overabundance. It’s so wonderful to be able to eat fresh food from the farm.

And last but most certainly not least: The people of Kauai are some of the nicest I’ve ever met, anywhere. And it breaks my heart to think that overdevelopment and overtouristing is causing them hardship. I am thinking a lot about how to spread the word about the myriad issues facing the native people of these islands. I wrote a scoldy piece about it here: https://sisterofminehomeagain.wordpress.com/2017/08/29/one-hundred-and-one-things-not-to-do-when-visiting-the-sovereign-hawaiian-nation/ The tone of that piece may be a bit harsh, so I am thinking on how to go about an education campaign aimed at visitors and newcomers that will resonate. Stay tuned

And that’s all for now. Much aloha to everyone from the Garden Isle!

Such a Short (ish) Strange Trip It’s Been…Or, How I Was On My Way to Paris and Landed in Hawaii (Literally Speaking)

The title to this post refers to this post that I wrote in February of 2015. How I was REALLY on my way to Paris, but then I went on OK Stupid at the suggestion of my mother, and how I met Hawaii Boy aka Doug, aka my husband. Then I wrote THIS post, about how I was sure that we met because I was the one who was taking HIM to Paris, that I just had to meet him to get there. But, no, what was really happening, which I documented in this post, was that I was falling in love with Kauai, even though I didn’t know it at the time! And so when Doug first heard about a job there, well, in the beginning I was apprehensive, because as I noted in THIS post I had come to the conclusion that we were still destined to be in France. except that the compromise was that we’d live in the south of France so that he could have his canoe there but I still could go to Paris whenever. But obviously that too wasn’t meant to be. The universe, man she moves in some mysterious ways…

OK back to the job. Yeah at first I was apprehensive because there was a previous possibility in Honolulu and I wasn’t feeling it. But.with this possibility I started feeling it. Mainly because it’s on Kauai, the one island that, as I said earlier, I had some strong connection to before I really understood what was happening. And Doug felt the same way, he wasn’t sure about this job at first. But then things started opening up and he had a great phone intervew and then he was invited for a second interview, and they suggested that I come. So I did. And if felt so right. It felt like everything was falling into place before we understood it, kind of like everything else in our 5+ years together.

I hate to even write these words but while making the decsion to uproot our lives was a piece of cake, actually doing so was pretty stressful. Selling our house (that’ hadn’t appreciated), packing, filling out the reams of paperwork required to bring my dog Shelby, quitting my job of 11 years. Yes I had quit before, but in the end I realized that my job at the Center for Economic and Policy Research was one of the best I’ve ever had. NO development director stays somewhere for that long! I’ll miss my CEPR comrades. And I’ll really miss my family and friends. I don’t think it has hit me yet, that I’m so far away from my mom, and daugther, and stepson, and my Baltimore peeps. What will I do on Monday nights without my Candace? But in the end, despite all of that, the decision still feels like the right one.

So today, Doug starts his new job as Executive Director of the Waioli Corp (here is an article about him from “our” newspaper The Garden Island News.) I’m so excited for him, and so proud of him. This job is really perfect for him in every way. And I start a whole new life in a very different place. I had thought that I would be working remotely at a part time fundraising gig but that fell apart, probably for the best. Because now I get to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. 🙂 I’m working on putting together my BOOM senior fitness classes, and I just signed up to get (re)certified as a personal trainer. I’m still looking for development jobs (if you know of any remote jobs hit a sister up.) But mainly I am going to slow the hell down. Breathe. Relax. Hang out with the many wonderful friends we have made here, and make new ones. Live into aging naturally, with as much grace as I can muster. And enjoy this place:

Mahalo for reading. I hope you all come along on my new journey. And come visit! Aloha nui loa, hons…

Adventures in the Aude, Or How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

As many of my friends know (and are tired of hearing about it I am sure), I am recovering from a nasty encounter with a patch of black ice, meaning that I am housebound nursing a sore but thankful body. No concussion and no broken bones, but lots of soft tissue damage = sofa bound. (ADDENDUM: Since starting this really long post I am somewhat better. But it’s below freezing outside so I am happy to stay sofa bound today). Anyway, I thought I’d take advantage of the downtime to reminisce about our recent adventures through the south of France.

We decided to visit the Languedoc because, as I mentioned in this post, when we thought that Doug was getting a job with UNESCO we envisioned having a second home in the south of France, somewhere where he could have his canoe and his workshop and where we could escape from Paris whenever we wanted. We looked around and the Languedoc seemed like the place! According to the internet there are still affordable properties there.  I had been there once, 10-11 years ago, and while it wasn’t my most memorable place immediately after returning from a trip that started in Nice and ended in Barcelona, memories of the Languedoc rose to the surface slowly, aging well, like a fine wine. I had always wanted to return and could just envision my little village abode there! It was as fated as Doug getting the job in Paris! We were SO sure that ALL of this was going to transpire that when he didn’t get the job, all of the bubbles were burst. No living in Paris! No home in the south of France. Boo HOO!

But in time we started thinking, hmmm. Maybe the job and the Paris apartment didn’t materialize, but the cute place in the south of France? MAYBE that could still be a (remote) possibility. So we decided to go snooting, as the husband likes to say, and planned a trip. We invited my mother-in-law to join us. Petunia (as she is known to her grandchildren and great grandchildren) is a world traveler and at 39 (give or take a few decades) pretty sprightly. RoadTRIP!

I did a lot of research on possible houses in the south of France locations before we left, checking out everything from voting records to amenities to distance to the sea (canoe, remember the canoe). So I had a list of villages to snoot, as well as places to just tourist. We stayed in the lovely village of Lagrasse, chosen for its central location, as well as its designation as one of the Beaux Villages de France. And it was really beaux.

We rented an apartment from these lovely folks:
https://holidaysinlagrasse.com/
Guy and Claire did a fabulous job renovating the property.

It was perfect, I highly recommend it. (Just be forewarned, if you stay over the Christmas holiday all restaurants in town will be closed. It was fine for us as we ventured out during the day and snacked on cheese, wine and other delicacies in the evening.  For us it all worked out perfectly!)

We wasted no time venturing out and about. Our first full day took us to the sea, Gruissan to be exact. We had a wonderful lunch in the village, fresh seafood and wonderful service at La Cranquette. 

It was a lovely sunny day so we decided to walk off that delicious seafood along the med, popping over to Gruissan Plage. It was a nice sandy long beach, with houses that reminded me of old Ocean City (MD). I can imagine that it’s hopping in the summer. We enjoyed our stroll and Doug found some beautiful shells to take home as souvenirs of our day by the sea.

The next day was Christmas Eve and we wanted to feel in the spirit. I had heard that there was a Christmas market in Carcasonne, home of the famous Chateau Comtal.

(Not my picture, but this is the best view). An enjoyable 45 minute ride later we luckily snagged a parking spot not far away from said market. It was sweet and charming and full of people enjoying the mild December weather, drinking mulled wine or, like us, taking advantage of the wonderful freshness of the oysters (and we of course had to have wine).

We walked around Carcassonne town and worked up another appetite, so we went back to the main square and had a bite and more wine, because why not? Rose to match the sunshine.

Fortified, we figured that we had to visit the castle while we were there, only to find that it was closing soon. But we were still able to wander around the outside, marveling at the view.

Christmas Day! We knew that most places would be closed so the plan was to drive to Narbonne to the market to purchase goodies for our Christmas feast.  We were a little late getting on the road so when we got to the fabulous indoor market most of the vendors were packing up to (rightly) head home to enjoy their holiday. But we were able to snag some provisions including a wonderful roast chicken with potatoes and something called Bouchee a la reine, which is a delicious puff pastry, in this case filled with salmon in a cream sauce. SO GOOD! We also purchased the obligatory Bouche de Noel, and some assorted cheeses and charcuterie and salad fixings and of course a baguette.

All that shopping made us hungry, but we didn’t want to eat a big meal knowing the feast that awaited us, so we found a little café by the canal and sat outside and had an omelette and salad for 10e and pichets of rose and it was so so sweet.

After our lunch we walked around Narbonne.  It’s a really charming town, I look forward to returning.

We took the long way back to Lagrasse, checking out some villages along the way (see below) and had a lovely Christmas dinner.

The next day Petunia was a bit pooped, so Doug and I decided to venture out and about on our own while she chillaxed in the apartment. We had our GPS set to some towns along the canal du midi, as I thought that they might make a nice home base. We had already scoped out some of my other possibilities: Fabrezan, which was close to Lagrasse and looked good on paper, but was just a bit too dark for Doug’s taste. Then there was Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse, also very close to Lagrasse and actually quite charming, with a nice little grocery store and a few restaurants. There was Doug’s favorite on paper, the funnily named Fontjoncouse. There was the super sweet Villerouges de Termines. But, as we were to discover about all the nice pretty little villages that I had painstakingly researched, EVERYTHING we might need was a 30-40 minute drive away. Call us spoiled Americans, but as Doug said, if I need a box of nails I don’t want to have to drive 30 minutes to get them. Hmmmmm something to ponder. Was my dream of finding my perfect place dashed already? No place had hit the spot so far and I was starting to get worried – but I was not ready to give up hope!

Undaunted by our lack of mutual WOW to that point we headed to some towns along the canal. First stop La Redorte, which was a nice town, but we just weren’t feeling it.  So we went on to Homps, which we really weren’t feeling. We didn’t get it at the time, but later we realized that we are Corbieres-ians (I made that up).  Lagrasse and environs (including all the way to the sea) are part of the region called Corbieres. From this site:

The Corbières is one of the wildest areas of France with one of the lowest population densities. It is picturesque with wine growing areas alternating with garigue and mountainous countryside. The name Corbières comes from “cor” a pre-Celtic word meaning “rock” and “berre” from the River Berre which runs through Durban. The eastern part of the Corbières with its Etangs, borders the Mediterranean Sea and is called the Corbières maritimes. It has its own distinctive climate and characteristic vegetation known as thermomediterranean vegetation.

OK, all we knew was that we always felt good when we saw this road sign,

and not because of the wine. We just somehow felt better there…

OK I digressed from the travelogue. As we were standing on a hilltop looking over a lake outside of Homps, me feeling like I would never find “our village”, I said “let’s just go to Bages”. I had visited Bages, a fishing village on one of the aforementioned Etangs in the Corbieres maritimes, and remembered liking it. And off we went, first stopping off at the giant Carrefour off the roundabout outside of Narbonne to stock up on…wine, and then 7 minutes later our eyes fell upon this:

Bages, just as I had remembered only better. There were flamingoes! It’s on a hill, but there were fishing boats lining the shore and I could see that Doug was intrigued. He took a video (that I can’t seem to upload unfortunately) and we stood there feeling happy, a feeling that only grew stronger as we made our way up and around the village. We just loved it, the charm, the sea, the fact that it’s a 7-minute drive to civilization (we are so American).

We drove along the Etang to the next town, Peyriac de Mer, which is also very nice, but Bages had captured our hearts. The minute we got back to the apartment we popped open some wine (Corbieres AOC mais oui) and looked at some real estate listings in Bages. OK, not quite as dirt bargain cheap as some of the inland tiny villages, but not out of the question. YES!

The next day we took Petunia to see what we had started feeling was OUR town, and had a lovely lunch with a view

(those windows are the restaurant) We walked around some more envisioning our new house with its rooftop terrace view of this…ahhh.

We took the long way back through the Corbieres, happy.

The next day was our last full day! We decided to go really far afield and drove south, towards the Pyrenees, destination Tautavel. Tautavel is a wine town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, best known for being the site where they discovered that oldest human remains in Europe, dubbed the Tautavel Man. I wish we had taken pictures of the scenery, but we were awestruck and Doug was hesitant to stop the Mercedes along the steep winding little roads. It was breathtaking, huge granite mountains in the distance, green fields and vineyards in the valleys. (Here is a picture of Tautavel, not mine).

We were really hungry when we finally made it to the town and were happy to find a gem of a restaurant called El Silex: Catalan no less! We had a wine from nearby Vingrau and delicious meal served up with Catalan hospitality by the owner/waiter/chef.

Fortified, we popped over to Vingrau (again not my picture, but wanted to show the mountains)

and found the cave open (hate when that happens) and bought 3 bottles.

We decided to check out the area to the east, by the sea, to see if we liked the med further south (we were just south of Leucate). Short answer: we did not!!! Of course, when we headed towards “home” and saw THE sign we understood why. Corbieres-ians all the way.

We sadly said goodbye to our lovely Arch Apartment the next day. We had booked a hotel in Toulouse for our last night, the charming Albert 1er in the center of town. We dropped our beautiful car off at the airport only to discover that most transportation to the center of town was diverted due to the Gilets Jaunes (or Yellow Vests in English). That meant we had to take a tram and walk 20 minutes, including the resilient Petunia.  We showed her to her room for a well-deserved rest and ventured out to see what we could of Toulouse. We soon came across a group of said Gilets Jaunes, milling about as the protest was winding down. 

All seemed peaceful so I approached a woman and asked her in my not so great but passable French to explain to me why she was protesting. From what I could understand, for her it was economics, she lives outside of the city is having a harder time making ends meet and she sees Macron’s government as elitist.  I can’t claim to speak for anyone else and it’s not my country or my battle, but in human terms I couldn’t argue with anything she said.

We went back and fetched Petunia and showed her some sites, she had been in Toulouse with Doug’s dad, and she had many memories to share over a really nice dinner.

It was a great way to end a fabulous trip.

We’ve spent many pleasant evenings since returning reminiscing about our trip over bottles of, what else, Corbiere wine. We decided that we can taste the terroir of our hopefully soon to be “home”. I hope that future entries chronicle my International house hunt in Bages. I hope you come along as I try to live my dreams…

A Real Rainbow over the Corbieres. A SIGN?!